Saturday, December 27, 2008

Punk Bike Enduro 2008

Always held early in December, and always looked forward to by the locals (and a bunch of not so local riders). The Punk Bike Enduro race/ride is held by the Dirt Rag gang. If you've never ready Dirt Rag, well, I don't know what's wrong with you.

The Punks all gather at a local fire hall, where we'll be led out to the local trails. Posts say we leave promptly at 11:00, but because I'm now a veteran of the Punk Enduro, I only show up at the parking lot at 11:00. Actually cut it a little close this year.

Some guys that park near me tell me they were on their way to some local trails and saw all the mountain bikes and had to see what was going on. I tell them just how lucky they got.

We all start gathering. This is always fun for me, I ride around trying to find some of my riding buddies and get to see all the outfits and costumes that people have put together for the day. You see, the Punk Enduro is more an experience rather than a race. Yeah, the guys in the front race for points, but most of us go out for the ride, the people, the experience.

At 11:30 Maurice starts us off, and by some accounts there's over 200 riders! We head up the road to gather for the first leg. What's really cool is that most of our uphill riding is on the road, everything else in the woods. This is especially good this year as the temperature will be in the 40s with some sun, and of course this means mud.

But the trail for the first leg is still mostly frozen. This leg leads into the first muddy downhill. Imagine being on top of a steep downhill with over a hundred people waiting at the bottom for you. They're all cheering you on, ringing cow bells. You know when someone wrecks by the loud, "ohhhhhhhhhhs." Imagine being on top of this hill with pictures of ABC's Wide World of Sports images going through your head. Ah, the agony of defeat. Which is why I promptly take the go around. Yeah, I'm a coward but I want to be able to ride the whole day.

We then head along the creeks, and yes, through the creeks. This year I was sporting my Lake winter bike shoes. Wow, is all I can say. They kept my feet completely dry and warm all day long. And that is key on a wet, muddy, five hour day.

We travel up through a cemetery, then down the road to our first real break. A bike derby takes place in a parking lot. You ride in a circle, the circle gets smaller, if you put a foot down you're out. It's hilarious, and there are some really good riders with balance I just don't possess.

After this, we lay our bikes down (see top picture) and line up behind them. On the word go, we run, grab our bikes (while hurdling over others' bikes) and then take the road. Points given out for those that reach the top first, and it's one of those deceiving hills where you keep thinking you've ridden the worst, but you haven't.

Next leg, down into the woods and finally deep in to the valley. It starts getting really muddy here. I'm way psyched about my 29er and the brank new Kenda Nevegals. They did really well in the mud, and I was able to ride/slide down all of the hills. At the end of this stage there's a huge mud pit you can opt to ride through. Had my camera out, but not many decided to partake. Maybe because they've been told we were going to do all of the trails this year.

Head up the road, which goes on forever, and gather at the top. Quick break and head off for the PPG trial. Things are now officially really muddy. This is a section you just suffer and make it through. The last section had a couple of fun downhills. Though sometime I'd love to try them when they're dry.

I make it slide/ride down all of the hills, and have mentally prepared myself to ride down the last hill which ends up at a little church with hundreds cheering me on. I'm already to ride down until I see Bill get close and personal with a tree. I decide for the bypass. Ah well, live to ride another day I guess.

We head across the road for the run up the hill and ride as fast as you can down the hill leg. Most of us watch. The guys coming down the hill were fascinating. Some of them made the downhill look easy, some of them made the downhill look like it hurt.

Started getting cold at this point, the temperature was quickly falling. Actually glad to ride up the gravel road that passes the pet cemetery, finally got warm again. Then road the lollipoop trail, which is always fun.

The last leg took the road, then hard left into the woods and finally down to Emerling park. I tried to "race" this one a bit. Actually passed a number of people; wonders will never cease. After ending up in the park, we take the road back. This section is always horrible as you know you've just got done with a five hour ride, and you just want to be back at the firehall with hot food and dry clothes.

Well, another great Punk Enduro. Good to see friends, and I guess I rode with Mark Weir and Harlan Price, but to be honest I wouldn't recognize them if they were to walk up to me and introduce themselves. Well, hope to see you all out there next December.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

24 hours of Big Bear schedule up!

Granny Gear announces this year's 24 hour races. Well, I found my motivation for this winter's training rides. I really love the 24 hours of Big Bear. The race course is awesome; it has a little bit of everything. Big downhills, rock gardens, winding singletrack through pine forests. A big downside is the cost versus what you get in return. My perspective, if you don't have a good race, you just paid for a really, really expensive t-shirt.

If I go this year, I really want to get on a team of guys I know. Unfortunately, most of the guys I know from this area are really fast riders. I really would hate to be the slow guy on the team. I know someone has to be, I just don't want to be that guy.

The last two years, I joined groups from other states. One team was awesome, the other year was a bit of a disappointment. So, if I could motivate some of my buddies who are average riders, but want to go for the experience of it all, that would be my first choice.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ghost Trails - book review

“The glaring sun was about to expose me for the fraud I was. I wasn’t an athlete like the down-bundled Euros, and I wasn’t a real Alaskan like the owners of those snowmobiles. The men at the Knik Bar and said it all between a couple swigs of beer. A girl like me didn’t belong in a race like this.”

I really enjoy reading blogs, but to be honest they all blend together after a while. Then one day I stumbled about Jill Homer’s blog. She lives in Alaska and writes about her mountain biking adventures. What struck me is that she was mountain biking in the Alaskan winters. I didn’t think it would even be possible.

Then I was amazed when I read on her blog about mountain bikers riding a portion of the Iditarod Trail in February. I remember following the race reports last year of the Iditarod Trail Invitational. I also remember reading about Jill on a record-breaking pace. Then there were reports of Jill being late coming in to one of the check points. Then reports of her bivying out in the open in below zero weather. I was transfixed, it was reading like a fiction book, but it was real. Finally, Jill made it to the checkpoint; I was relieved – and I didn’t even know her.

I always wondered what happened during those hours when Jill was stuck out on the Iditarod trail with her bike. Then I read on her blog that Jill was publishing her book about the experience and was looking for people to review it. I jumped on the opportunity; I wanted to see what really happened.

When I began reading Jill’s book, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I really got two books in one. The chapters alternated between her Iditarod experiences and her entry to outdoor adventures. I then reread the book’s title: Ghost Trails – Journeys through a lifetime. And I realized the real focus of the book was on her life’s journeys.
Her Iditarod journey really started back in 1990 where Jill tells us of how she got involved in the outdoors, hiking with her friend Becky. But Jill just doesn’t describe the hike, she does what she does best – she gives us very honest insight into her thoughts and emotions. The doubts and fears that creep into all of our minds when we’re not in our comfort zones. Those things that we often don’t share, but Jill shares all of those thoughts in very open, honest way.

Through Jill’s outdoor journeys, she describes meeting her significant other, Geoff. I really thought that this was where she was going to lose me. I’m a guy; I don’t want to read about romance. But what I found instead was an extremely interesting story of a woman meeting not only a boyfriend, but a person who guides her into the outdoor realm. All of us that do a variety of outdoor activities probably had a mentor that introduced us to the outdoors. That guided us through those initial adrenaline charged adventures. I can recall clearly those people that changed my whole life getting me into outdoor adventures. And Jill does a great job relating her experiences. She has the ability to put you in the moment, making the book read like fiction until you remind yourself that it’s non-fiction.

The other half of the book details Jill’s Iditarod experiences. It will also make you feel like a sissy when you don’t want to go ride because it’s a little chilly outside. Jill does a great job of relating her thoughts, concerns, worries, and fears while describing the incredible hardships, the cast of characters she meets, and the beautiful yet cruel Alaskan terrain.

“Knowing I was in the midst of a bonk mandated as much food as I could stomach, but I was only able to put down the other half of my chocolate bar from dinner. At least I was warm, warm enough to let the fear encompass me again, and the quick glance at my thermometer, still bottomed out at 20 below after two minutes inside my bag, was enough to reignite my smoldering fear. What if the warm cocoon surrounding me failed? How would I possible crawl 10 or more miles into Rohn? I heard a low, dull howl in the distance that was either a wolf or the wind. I could not remember the last time I felt so alone.”

I found myself putting on a sweater while reading the book; Jill brings to life the harshness of an Alaskan winter. After describing all of the hardships (everything from keeping water from freezing to a loss of appetite when calories are essential) Jill brings us to the bivy she spent one cold night. Her descriptions put us right there with her. Sure, I’ve hit the wall before, but never like this. And not in a race where the consequence is severe frostbite, or even death.

“Despite my pounding pulse and churning stomach, I could feel my muscles relax and eyelids droop. A curtain of warmth settled over my thoughts and I closed my eyes. I could feel my fear melting in to the serene indifference of sleep. I wondered if I would ever wake up. I had no way of knowing for sure.”

Overall, I really enjoyed the book quite a bit. It was fun to read the story behind the Iditarod race report. It affirms the notion that I will never ride my bike in the Iditarod bike race. Even if you’ve never ridden a mountain bike, you will still enjoy the story of survival. As well, you’ll enjoy Jill’s journey in to the world of outdoor adventure, and the people who influenced that journey. A great winter read. And I know I’ll be reading all the race reports very close this winter, as I noticed that Jill has signed up for the race again. Good luck Jill.

Iditarod Trail Invitational